Michal Tabach, Rina Hershkowitza and Abraham Arcavi have written an article that was published online by The Journal of Mathematical Behavior yesterday. The article is entitled Learning beginning algebra with spreadsheets in a computer intensive environment. Here is the abstract:
This study is part of a large research and development project aimed at observing, describing and analyzing the learning processes of two seventh grade classes during a yearlong beginning algebra course in a computer intensive environment (CIE). The environment includes carefully designed algebra learning materials with a functional approach, and provides students with unconstrained freedom to use (or not use) computerized tools during the learning process at all times. This paper focuses on the qualitative and quantitative analyses of students’ work on one problem, which serves as a window through which we learn about the ways students worked on problems throughout the year. The analyses reveal the nature of students’ mathematical activity, and how such activity is related to both the instrumental views of the computerized tools that students develop and their freedom to use them. We describe and analyze the variety of approaches to symbolic generalizations, syntactic rules and equation solving and the many solution strategies pursued successfully by the students. On that basis, we discuss the strengths of the learning environment and the open questions and dilemmas it poses.